Could it be that everyone is connected in just a few links?

Published 10:34 am Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Do you know Denise Case?

If you don’t, chances are you know someone who does.

Just ask Hyram Copeland. Most of his life, Copeland has been making connections, first with customers working at the old Tracetown Sears in Natchez from 1965 to 1984 and now with constituents as the mayor of Vidalia since 1992.

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As the elder statesman in the Miss-Lou, Copeland knows the importance of such connections on both sides of the river.

“It is what makes our community strong,” Copeland said. “We go to the same doctors, we go to the same grocery stores, we go to the same church. It is a very strong relationship.”

Even though the world may feel like it is becoming more anonymous and less personal each day, Copeland still believes the Miss-Lou is more connected than ever.

“We are still a small community,” Copeland said. “There is always somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody.”

In fact, we may be even more connected to each other than we realize.

In the 1960s, the Harvard researcher Stanley Milgram set out to discover how interconnected Americans were at the time. He asked a random sampling of people in Nebraska and Kansas to link up with a person in Boston through a letter chain. In his experiment he discovered the average length of the letter chains that reached Boston were five to six letters long.

His research has since led to the popular phrase “six degrees of separation” and has been corroborated by other recent studies using e-mail and the Internet as links.

“I would think that the degrees of separation in the Miss-Lou are even less,” Vidalia High School math teacher Amanda Wingfield said.

“Think about it in terms of a math problem,” Wingfield said. “It’s a question of exponents.”

For example, let’s say one person knows 100 people, Wingfield posited. “If those 100 people know 100 people and then all of those people know 100 people, then you end up with a whole lot of people,” Wingfield said.

Computing the numbers, Wingfield discovered that just three degrees into the equation you end up with 1,010,101 people interconnected.

“By the time you get to the third stage you are well over the number of people that live in this area,” Wingfield said. “I thought this area was small, but when you look at the numbers (our community) looks really small.”

That doesn’t surprise Alvin Shelby. As a musician who has traveled the world, the web of friends he has made through his keyboard never ceases to amaze him.

For Shelby, music is his connection to Natchez and the surrounding area. He started playing the piano at age 3 and played for his church and Sunday school at age 8.

Since then music has been his link to others.

Shelby has been teaching music at Cathedral School for 20 years. He still makes it a point to know every child’s name. “Parents are amazed that I can remember their child’s name when I see them out in the community,” Shelby said.

Associations through school, work and family knit the Miss-Lou into a tight knot.

“If it’s not church work, it’s school related,” Shelby said. “We are all linked in some way or another,” Shelby said.